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European-American Topics - Cinema - Terrorism

Provocative documentary tackles the question behind suicide killings 

By Amanda Schuster 
May 2006

Terrorism is a hot topic in America and Europe today. Everyone is asking the same questions: How should we respond to it? Should we be afraid of it? What does it mean for our future? Pierre Rehov, a French filmmaker, by no means purports to answer all of these questions. He’s headed in the right direction, though – Suicide Killers, his latest documentary, approaches the problem of Islamic extremism in a way that is very different from the typical Western approach. Interviews with Rehov and his production partner Lisa Magnas reveal their unsettling findings and educate us about the philosophy that drives their work.

During the course of his work in the Middle East, Rehov was drawn more and more toward suicide killers and the reasons behind what they do. “The first step to a solution is to understand what is going on, what we are dealing with,” he says.  He began to interview would-be suicide bombers, as well as actual suicide bombers’ families and victims. The more he learned about them, the more he became convinced that it is essential for Europeans and Americans to develop a zero tolerance attitude toward suicide killers.

Blaming anyone but the killers themselves, Rehov says, is cowardice: “Trying to find excuses [for] the enemy is a cowardly attitude, and in a fight the coward always loses.” In his film, Rehov attempts to uncover the deep-reaching reasons behind suicide killings and reveals them for what they are: acts of hatred and misery. In doing so, he hopes to drive home the point that these are people that can and should be held accountable for their actions, and that Westerners shouldn’t be afraid to approach them as such.

Attempting to understand the thought processes behind violent Islamic extremism is important, says Rehov. The terrorists’ way of thinking is very simple, he says, as Islamic extremism is based on the essential concepts of pure/impure and honor/dishonor. Clearly, honor and purity are considered good. However, since Jews, Americans and many other people fall into the category of “impure” and “dishonorable,” the mass murder of these groups, suicide bombers believe, will undoubtedly result in plentiful rewards.

The thing that Rehov found most striking, however, was that suicide killing seemed to be largely what he calls “the result of a high level of sexual frustration orchestrated by a civilization which has been unable so far to choose the path of freedom and lives mostly in fear.” He continues:

“God is everywhere, in charge of everything, and one knows that a great level of fear often [leads] to sacrifices. So, I finally understood this very simple mechanism: a “suicide killer” believes in sacrificing his own flesh, which is temporary and impure, in order to get infinite happiness and pleasure in the other life where his soul, which is eternal and pure, will be rewarded for this great sacrifice. Men, who mostly die virgins, get, among other rewards, 72 female virgins.”

Curious, Rehov asked a “sweet, naïve young terrorist” he met in jail what her reward would be. Her answer? She had hoped to become one of the 72 virgins, thinking she would be the prettiest of them all. “In this repressive society where sex is an absolute taboo, she had found a simple idea to get laid by killing herself and innocent people,” says Rehov. “This, for me, was the sum of all absurdities I had to encounter.”

Such absurdity is extremely discomforting, and it leaves those who confront it wondering what can be done. That, it seems, is exactly the question that Rehov hopes to provoke through his film. Though Rehov and Magnas are still in negotiations with distributors for their film, clips have aired on all many major cable news stations, and the film has been shown in its entirety to select audiences in America and Europe. Magnas says that it has been received very well, with their various audiences (Jewish, academic, secular, etc.) amazed across the board. Their eyes were opened to the magnitude of the problem, yet almost all responded with the sense that “there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Magnas. 

For more information and to view the trailer of the film, visit Rehov’s website at

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